A few weeks ago I was sitting comfortably in a suburban movie theater waiting to succumb to the numbness that is Hollywood’s interpretation of cinematic art. As with every movie these days I was under the captivity of the pre-feature commercials and previews for films I would not remember. As I sat munching heavily on a bag of popcorn I was horrified to see the sneak peak of Twilight. Up to this point I was able to safely keep my distance from this teen drama series. I had read a Washington Post article earlier in the year about the sudden rise of teen vampire drama. These books, the generations cousin to Anne Rice’s Lestat Chronicles were thick with sexual innuendo, a powerful male figure and wandering, hapless women (for the most part, I am paraphrasing) that were being eaten up with a religiosity by girls and boys across our mostly illiterate land. I cringed at the notion of vampires once again being popular. I mean the movie Blackula is awesome, and the original Nosferatu is kind of cool, but vampirism is such a perverse expression of horror and unfortunately I have found that Twilight is a shinning example of why.
Curiosity got the better of me eventually. The preview I saw showed a hapless young woman being saved at the zero hour again and again by the silver, skinned, dark eyed vampire hunk. At no point did we get a Buffy the Vampire a la Kristy Swanson (please don’t get me started on the Sarah Michelle Geller version. I have managed with success not to see one episode of that show) vibe from the femme fatal. Instead we get this doe eyed creature, more game then human. My initial reaction was the film, and thus the book, was about how women are desperately hopeless, always near danger and death, victims of prey by man and beast alike, and need a silver skinned, shinny knight to save them. In this case a chiseled vampire forever encapsulated in the body of a 17 year old boy. Eventually I caved after multiple trips to book stores wherein I was bombarded by displays of the book series. I did what any sensible literature major would do. I got a copy of the book on CD and listened to it. I had to prove my theory right. Sadly I did.
Author Stephanie Myer has defended her heroine’s hopelessness by stating that Isobella Swan (and as the book reminds you over and over again her nickname is Bella, so you see she is a BEAUTIFUL SWAN) is not the victim of helpless femininity but just a normal, awkward teenager who is the victim of humanity’s need for us to make choices. However, my analysis of this character finds nothing that hints that the little swan ever makes a choice at all. She seems instead entranced by the Vampire Edward Cullen who is stalking, overprotective, violent and in this book emotionally abusive. As this is also a love story and stories are often a reflection of the artist, I can’t help but wonder what Stephanie Myer’s eHarmony personal add reads like. The Brigham Young graduate alludes to the biblical story of the tree and the snake and the apple when talking about this story. And really, is that not a surprise? The most anti-feminist story in modern literature acting as inspiration for a vampire book is hardly shocking.
I don’t have the heart (or intestinal fortitude) to go into the details of the story. I do not encourage a reading of this book either. I will say though, that never in my life have I read a book where in a woman was a victim of violence and terrorization by every man she comes in contact with. The only person who doesn’t see Bella Swan as a victim is her dopey father, whose non-presence is the only telling and interesting facet of this story. The high school boys Bella meets, the Native American men she finds, and of course the Vampire Cullen are all so convinced that Bella can’t last five minutes alone in the big scary world that they practically kill themselves to defend her. The reward of course is not noble, it’s her vagina, at least metaphorically. Being an artist tempered by her silly beliefs, Meyers never quite goes the raunchy sexual route. Regardless the allusion to body heat, electricity, blood and pulses is enough to tell us what Bella and Edward both want.
Let us not get me started either on Meyer’s inability to come up with new adjectives. She was so pleased with her self when she had her characters shrug into their coats she used this allusion repeatedly throughout the book. Between the whole Isobella Swan nonsense and all the shrugging everyone is doing you wonder who the hell the editor was and why the hell they even have a job. Maybe if someone sat Meyer’s down and been honest with her from the beginning we could have gotten a more worthwhile story, written well. That’s all every writer wants, is to be told by an editor what they have is a start, but that the novel needs work. No one had the balls to say that to Meyers. Which is sad, because this means that money again dictates decisions. However, this book might have had a chance at being monumental in success. The world has proven with Harry Potter that it wants great, universal epic stories. In book form too, this writer might add.
Twilight is why it is important for parents to read the books that their children are reading. If I did (and thankfully I do not) had a 14 year old girl, a 12 year old girl, a 10 year old girl, a 16 year old girl that was reading this book I would be nothing short of mortified. My house would instantly be plastered in photos of Kim Gordon and Kim Deal. Copies of Miranda July would line ever shelf and be slid daily into backpacks. PJ Harvey would exclusively be played on the stereo along side Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch and The Breeders. Every weekend I would have Allison Anders movie marathons and if that didn’t get the point across, well at that point I would just track down bell hooks and be be done with the whole mess. This kind of shit is what turns impressionable young girls into unsure, neurotic women. I don’t say that lightly, but Twiglight seeks to do nothing more then reinforce the notion that women are the weaker sex. Reinforcing these notions that women are weak has caused unreal amounts of damage to the psyche of human existence on this planet. Why? Why are we content not just to reinvent and retell these stories, but why too are we so willing to allow them to exist without massive criticism.
I do not believe that Meyer’s does not have the right to deliver these tales to the masses. Art, even the bad art has a right to exist. It is our jobs however, as thinking people to challenge, and do so with venom ideologies in art that are not insightful, but reinforcing of behavior that is despicable. Twilight is a piece of shit as writing, but it is so much worse as a work of art in it’s ability to so thoroughly ignore notions of feminism, liberation and empowerment. In many ways I can’t think of a better thematic element then Vampirism to counteract anti-women mythology. Kristy Swanson was blond and ditsy and cute. But she hardly played the victim in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not that this film was a super high five to feminism either, but it did at least put the steaks in her hands. Twilight is literary poison of the worse kind. Lets work to find a better, more empowering antidote.